TV show gives doctor chance to share Indigenous culture
Story by Shelley Boettcher | Photo courtesy of CTV
Minutes before the deadline, Edmonton physician Dr. James Makokis and his husband Anthony Johnson submitted a video application for The Amazing Race Canada.
The couple was on their way back to Alberta, wrapping up a sun-soaked vacation in Costa Rica. As Makokis drove to the airport, Johnson sat in the passenger seat and taught himself video editing, creating their three-minute audition clip.
That clip ended up winning them a spot on the popular reality TV show.
“We’ve both wanted to go on The Amazing Race Canada for ages,” Makokis says. “We really believe in signs from the universe and, when opportunities like this present themselves, it’s up to us to either say yes or no.”
They said yes, and now they are competing as Team Ahkameyimok on The Amazing Race Canada, Season 7.
The show airs Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. MST on CTV.
For the two-spirit couple, appearing on The Amazing Race Canada provides an opportunity to share some of their Indigenous cultural beliefs. It also gives them a chance to draw attention to issues faced by Indigenous North Americans, especially those in the LGBTQ2S+ community.
Makokis comes from Saddle Lake Cree Nation northeast of Edmonton. A former chair of Alberta Health Services’ Wisdom Council, he has known he wanted to be a doctor since he was four years old.
He now practises at Edmonton’s South Common Medical Centre, where he focuses on transgender health and medical hormone transitioning. He also works on the Kehewin Cree Nation southwest of Cold Lake.
Johnson is from the Navajo Nation in Arizona and serves as a project consultant for Kehewin Health Services.
The pair has made headlines across North America for their appearances on the show. On the lighter side, Makokis and Johnson say their good-luck charms are Fanny, a “gender-neutral fanny pack” and their dog Lucy.
Then there are the ribbon skirts they’ve been sporting overtop bright leggings while competing. The skirts—encircled with large bright bands of coloured ribbons—are shorter versions of the ones sometimes worn by Cree women in Alberta.
Makokis says the skirts pay homage to Maria Lorena Ramirez. She is an Indigenous Mexican woman who wore a skirt and sandals when she beat 500 other runners, winning a 50-km ultramarathon in 2017.
By wearing the skirts, Johnson and Makokis want to highlight “the importance of exercise and endurance sports, which have always been a part of keeping Indigenous people healthy,” Makokis says.
As well, the skirts draw attention to the need for more acceptance of all gender backgrounds within healthcare and in general.
“It can be difficult right now for people who are gender-diverse or from sexual minorities,” Makokis says. “But it’s important to break down those barriers.”
Finally, the skirts are a nod to the REDress Project, bringing “awareness to the number of Indigenous women and girls who are murdered and missing,” Makokis says. “We wanted to bring a human face to that issue, and also to show our support, as gay men, to the women in our communities.”
With that in mind, Johnson is working on a Cree midwifery project, and they are both fundraising to develop a Cree cultural healing centre, to preserve and practise ancient Indigenous medicine and ceremonies.
They can’t talk much about the upcoming episodes of The Amazing Race Canada. Fans will have to watch to find out what happens next.
“But we hope to draw attention to issues that are important to us, and to have lots of fun,” Makokis says.
“We are excited to showcase all of our strengths.”
Dr. James Makokis and Anthony Johnson—Team Ahkameyimok—will host viewing parties at South Edmonton Common’s The Rec Room each Tuesday evening, as long as the team is competing on the show. Search “Anthony and James and Edmonton” on Eventbrite.ca for free tickets and information.